In 1957, John and Florence Pollock lost their two daughters to a reckless driver who carelessly sped around town. A year later, they gave birth to twin daughters who were the spitting image of their dead sisters. But physical resemblance could be easily explained through genetics. It was their eerily similar behavior, however, that raised some burning questions.
One of the most compelling cases of reincarnation, the case of the Pollock Twins, is likely to make even the most logical, eyeball-rolling rationalist out there think twice.
But we’ll let you decide. Is this a case of grieving parents’ wishful thinking? Or is there something bigger – and dare I say – supernatural, to this story?
They Led a Happy and Prosperous Life
John Pollack, a devoted Catholic, and Florence, a Protestant, met in the early 1940s. After tying the knot, they moved to Northeast England, giving birth to their firstborn, Joanna. Five years later, they moved to the small town of Hexham, where their second daughter, Jacqueline, was born.
For a while, the Pollacks led a happy and prosperous life. They owned a grocery store and were busy running a booming dairy delivery business. Joanna and Jacqueline got along well, often playing dress-up and putting on performances while their parents were busy with work.
Thick as Thieves
Joanna loved to “mother” her little sister Jacqueline, who looked up to her and admired all that she did. Being the artsy little girl she was, Joanna used to make up her dramatic plays and make Jacqueline play along with her.
The girls would spend hours together, gossiping and laughing and letting their imagination roam free. Whenever they had the chance, they combed people’s hair. They loved the sensation between their fingers, and they especially loved the way their dad’s hair felt.
Jacqueline’s Distinct Body Marks
At the age of three, Jacqueline tumbled into a bucket and hurt herself. She ended up with a scar on her forehead that was especially visible in the winter. Initially, Jacqueline worried the scar would wreck her face, but Joanna and their parents reassured her it wasn’t a big deal at all.
Apart from the scar, Jacqueline was born with a mark on the left side of her waist. These physical marks, both her scar and her birthmark, would be of great significance later on in the Pollack family story.
“I Will Never Be a Lady”
When Jacqueline learned to speak, she would often say, “I will never be a lady,” a line that left John and Florence quite bewildered. Why would their daughter assume she would never grow up to be an adult?
Granted, she might have been referring to “lady” as in “lady-like,” but I guess we’ll never know.
In any case, the Pollacks – a happy family of four – led a normal, middle-class life until one negligent driver changed their lives forever.
A Great Believer in Reincarnation
Before we get into the accident, here’s a little side note on John Pollock.
Despite growing up a Christian, John sincerely believed in reincarnation and was fascinated by the phenomenon ever since encountering the idea in a novel at nine.
Florence, however, was a lot more skeptical. While the notion of a dead person reappearing in a new body is found in different religions and philosophical doctrines, it’s not something Christians tend to believe in.
Back to the Story
One cool morning in May 1957, Joanna, eleven years old at the time, and Jacqueline, six, said goodbye to their parents and headed out to church. They skipped along their familiar Sunday route, where they were joined by one of their classmates.
Tragically, the three of them were hit by a car speeding towards them out of the blue. The person behind the wheel was a local woman who had taken a significant number of drugs that day. She had been separated from her kids a few days earlier, and drugs were the only way she felt she could deal with the grief.
An Attempted Suicide Turned Committed Homicide
Unfortunately for Joanna, Jacqueline, and their classmate, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The woman knew she was speeding their way, but the pills she had taken distorted her judgment and slowed down any response she otherwise would have exercised.
The three of them died on the spot.
Now, losing a child is arguably the most painful thing a person can go through, so losing two at once? John and Florence were at a loss for words. All they could do was wail and bawl their hearts out in tears.
Neighbors Felt Sorry for Them
For several months, the grief-stricken couple wanted nothing more than to take their own lives. If Joanna and Jacqueline were no longer with them, why bother to live? Out of the two, however, John was a bit more collected, and he was the one who raised the topic of having more kids.
He went around town telling people he and Florence would be having another set of girls, but he was met with nothing other than solemn faces and pitying glares. Incredibly, though, after a year of mourning, Florence gave birth to a set of twin girls.
A Miracle? A Coincidence?
During her pregnancy, Florence was told by her obstetrician that she had a single fetus in her womb. Nevertheless, on October 4th, 1958, Florence was gifted two bundles of joy. They named the girls Gillian and Jennifer.
The Pollocks felt like this was their chance for a new life. They moved to another city and did their best to leave their tragic past behind. Eventually, however, their past came back to haunt them. Eerily, Gillan and Jennifer started to act like their deceased sisters.
It Was All Very Uncanny
Physically, the girls resembled Joanna and Jacqueline. But it wasn’t just that. They began showing similar behavioral signs that were hard to ignore. For one, Gillian and Jennifer each took a liking to their sisters’ dolls and stuffed animals.
Though siblings often fight over toys, Gillian and Jennifer were an exception. Jennifer immediately went after Jacqueline’s toys, and Gillians grabbed Joanna’s. The girls said the dolls were Christmas presents from Santa Claus (which was true for Joanna and Jacqueline).
Gillian Was Joanna, Jennifer Was Jacqueline
As they grew older, their personalities began to take shape in a way that strongly resembled their sisters. Like Joanna, Gillian tended to “mother” her twin sister, Jennifer, who never opposed or fought with her.
Gillian was more outgoing, artsy and enjoyed putting on costumes, just like Joanna. Jennifer was more complacent and often acted like Gillian’s little sister, despite being born on the same day. Finally, both girls loved to play hairdresser, especially with their dad’s hair.
They Developed a Phobia of Cars
The similarities spooked Florence and John. But that wasn’t all. The girls also suffered from recurring nightmares about getting hit by a car, often waking up at night drenched in sweat and yelling, “The car! The car! It’s coming for us!”
John and Florence hadn’t told the twin girls how Joanna and Jacqueline died. All they knew was that they had sisters up in heaven guarding them. For that reason, the parents found it utterly bizarre that their girls would develop such a strong phobia of vehicles.
“Blood Is Coming Out of Your Eyes”
Florence once overheard her girls talk about the car accident in detail, details they had no way of knowing. She saw Gillian touch Jennifer’s head and say, “The blood is coming out of your eyes. That’s where the car hit you.”
According to John, Jacqueline suffered a massive blow to the eyes after the car hit them. Moreover, whenever they heard their twins talk about the accident, they often spoke in the present tense, as if they were living the experience all over again.
They Recognized Places in Hexham
When the twins turned four, the family revisited Hexham for the first time. To Florence and John’s surprise, the girls immediately pointed out landmarks that Joanna and Jacqueline had been familiar with, like the school they had formerly attended.
John didn’t need much convincing that his twin girls were somehow connected to his deceased daughters. Florence, however, was still on the fence. She rationalized their fear of cars as taking after her fear of cars and their affinity towards certain toys as pure coincidence.
Jennifer Had the Exact Same Birthmark
What Florence couldn’t explain, though, was the white line Jennifer had across her forehead. She was born with a mark in the same spot where Jacqueline had a scar. And as if that wasn’t odd enough, she had another birthmark on – you guessed it – the left side of her waist.
While trauma is said to be passed on between generations, things like birthmarks are thought to be idiosyncratic. As a person who doesn’t quite believe in reincarnation, I must say, it’s an incredibly odd coincidence.
Jennifer Recognized Her Mom’s Old Garment
The more Florence observed her twin daughters, the more her skepticism wavered.
Florence used to wear a smock while helping John with his milk delivery business, but soon after Joanne and Jacqueline’s death, she quit and never wore it again.
One day, John put on the garment while painting. Jennifer (the twin who resembled Jacqueline) walked up to him and asked, “Why are you wearing mommy’s coat?” Gillian, however, didn’t recognize the smock. The parents believed it was likely because Joanna, the older one, was at school when her mom worked and had never seen her in that outfit.
Ian Stevenson, the Psychiatrist Who Believed It Was True
The Pollacks’ story grabbed the attention of Ian Stevenson, an American psychiatrist who was deeply fascinated with the notion of reincarnation and who believed that studying it could benefit medicine.
He published a book in 1987 titled “Children Who Remember Their Past Lives,” where he analyzed 14 stories of reincarnation (or what seems like reincarnation) and concluded that the process of “rebirth” could occur. The Pollack twins’ case is undoubtedly one of his strongest pieces of evidence.
A Mystery That Can’t Be Explained Through Genetics
Digging deeper into the twin’s case, Ian Stevenson noted that because Gillian and Jennifer were monozygotic twins (genetically identical), Jennifer’s birthmarks were a mystery that genetics couldn’t explain.
That being said, there are some instances where identical twins have mirror-image features. For example, instead of each having a birthmark on the right side of their waists, one will have it on the left side while the other on the right. But in the Pollack twin’s case, only Jennifer had birthmarks.
A Biased Mind Holding onto the Past?
Not everyone agrees with Ian Stevenson. Some people consider Pollocks’ story to be a tale of wishful thinking. Of a pair of grieving parents and their false hope. John Pollack was a huge believer in reincarnation long before Joanna and Jacqueline died.
So, it wouldn’t be too hard to see how his biased mind would create or inflate certain things just for the sake of reinforcing his own belief. When grieving, our brains can defend themselves from the anguish by finding meaning in pure coincidences.
Just a Bunch of Babble?
Ian Wilson, a British historian who investigated the case, claimed that Ian Stevenson’s evidence was essentially weak and unsatisfying. According to Wilson, the Pollack twins could have easily picked up on specific details about their deceased sisters by overhearing their parents’ conversations.
As the twins grew older, their “past-life” memories seemed to diminish, yet John and Florence still frequently discussed the similarities and the possibility of reincarnation. This surely affected the Pollack twins, who began to live up to their parent’s expectations (whether they were aware of it or not).
Existence Is Jam-Packed with Weird Mysteries
While I tend to be a bit skeptical about stories like these, the notion of reincarnation can be found worldwide. The thought that the soul (assuming it exists) lives on in different bodies is an idea found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, and the Sikhs, among others.
One thing is for sure – existence is jam-packed with weird mysteries. Hypnotic regression may lead to xenoglossia, a phenomenon where people speak a language they couldn’t have acquired by natural means. Hypnosis may also lead people to envision themselves in a different bodily form, and when they snap out of it, they usually conclude it was their past life.
Let’s Not Rush to Throw This Away…
Putting the “woo-woo” element of reincarnation aside, research into odd coincidences like the Pollack twins might help us understand certain phobias or chronic obsessions people are born with. Such research can also help us deal with mental illnesses like schizophrenia and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
The concept of some form of “rebirth” or transgenerational memory can also help explain certain identity crises. On the flip side, it may explain the nature of child prodigies and their outstanding talent, which seems to be innate.
Here are Some Truly Wacky Cases
A skeptic myself (albeit a tad wobbly one), I won’t try to convince you that reincarnation exists. But I would like to share some of Ian Stevenson’s mind-blowing findings.
Over the years, Ian Stevenson’s hefty research has brought to light around 3,000 cases of allegedly reincarnated children.
Stevenson’s 2,268-page body of work was published in 1997. Titled Reincarnation and Biology, it’s a worthy read for skeptics and believers alike. I would say it’s even more valuable for those who roll their eyes whenever they hear the words “souls” or “karma.”
She Gave a Detailed Account of a Remote Town
One of the cases in the book has to do with a Sri Lankan child who overheard her mom discuss a remote town called Kataragama, a place the child had never been to. Surprisingly, the girl provided a detailed account of the distant town.
She told her mom that she drowned; then, her mentally disabled brother pushed her into the river. She also said her dad was a bald man named Herath who ran a flower stall in a market near a Buddhist stupa.
Stevenson Confirmed Her Claims
The Sri Lankan child said her old house had a glass-windowed roof, several dogs in the backyard, and was located right beside a large Hindu temple where people often smashed coconuts outside its doors.
Amazingly, Ian Stevenson confirmed that, indeed, a flower vendor was selling his bouquets by a Buddhist stupa. That same flower vendor did have a daughter who had drowned in the river while playing with her mentally impaired brother.
There’s No Way She Could Have Known
The details regarding the house were also accurate. However, the only thing that wasn’t on point was the claim that her dad was bald. The flower vendor had plenty of hair on his head, but his brother and father didn’t.
Herath wasn’t his name. Instead, it was the name of the dead girl’s cousin. In conclusion, out of all the verifiable statements she made, most of them panned out. The families had no previous connection to each other, so that the details couldn’t have been acquired in any obvious way.
More Bewildering Cases
Ian describes another equally stupefying case about a Turkish boy whose right side of his face was congenitally underdeveloped. This same boy said he remembered the life of a man who died from a bullet shot to his face from point-blank range.
Another bizarre case was of a Burmese girl born without her lower right leg. She had given Ian details about a life of a girl run over by a train. Another kid from Thailand was born with a birthmark on the back of his head and a larger irregular one on the front. He said he remembered the life of a man who had died from a shot in the head.
A Rare Condition with No Grounding in Scientific Research
Ian wrote of an Indian child born with boneless stubs for fingers on his right hand in his book. This child talked about the life of a boy who had lost the fingers of his right hand after working with a fodder chopping machine.
Ian said that this form of “unilateral brachydactyly” is incredibly rare. So rare that he couldn’t find any previous works discussing it. He concluded that one would have to be very stubborn to try and downplay the peculiarity at play.
He Found Some Patterns
Interestingly, Ian found several patterns in his research. For one, he found that there was only a short window of time – usually between the ages of two and five – in which some kids retain glimmers of their past lives.
Secondly, memories concerning previous lives surface only when something in the kid’s current life awakens those recollections. And lastly, only a teeny tiny percentage of kids experience this kind of recognition memory. In India, for instance, where nearly everyone believes in past lives, only about one in 500 kids can recall something.
Trauma Leaves an Emotional Imprint
So, why do some children remember, and others don’t?
The reason, Stevenson believed, has to do with the way they died. He suspected that strong, negatively charged emotions are somehow related to a child’s past life recollection.
In other words, if your past self-suffered a horrendous death, you are more likely to remember the traumatic event. Trauma allegedly clings to your soul and passes on with you to your next life. This might explain phobias, that on the surface, seem to have come out of nowhere.
Phobias Related to Their Previous Death
Most of the children Stevenson had interviewed claimed to have died in some horrifying way or another. Oftentimes, he observed, the kids had fears and thoughts relating to the way they died. Those who said they had drowned feared water.
Those who said they had been stabbed were incapable of holding a knife. However, the weirdest cases had to do with kids who said they were murdered and had unexpectedly crossed paths with their killers in their current lives. These infants allegedly lunged for the throats of these strangers who, they believed, were responsible for their death.
Reincarnation Isn’t an Immediate Process
Stevenson also noted that reincarnation isn’t an immediate process. There’s usually a gap of several years between the person’s death and their new life. And for the most part, souls prefer to remain local.
The previous person might have lived in a different town, but they would typically remain in the same country, or at the least, the same continent.
That raises the question – why? Why do we prefer to live in the same cultural context as before? Sadly, I haven’t got a clue. And neither did Ian Stevenson.
It Has Little to Do with Karma
Contrary to most religious concepts of reincarnation, Ian found that there wasn’t much evidence of karma. He described the whole thing as more of a somewhat mechanical soul-rebirthing process, not a process that has to do with morals.
One might have been a saint in their past life, yet they will still be born, for example, with a disfigured face if they were previously shot at point-blank range. One might have been a killer in their past life, but they could still be born into good conditions (financially stable, of high class).
Debunking the Debunkers
According to many of Ian’s readers, he did a brilliant job in debunking the debunkers. Physicist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf commented that “the statistical probability that reincarnation does occur is so overwhelming, that cumulatively the evidence is not inferior to that for most if not all branches of science.”
Ian himself was persuaded that once scientists stop fearing whatever alludes to the paranormal, they will come to realize that reincarnation isn’t necessarily supernatural to begin with.
Ian worked hard to try and find the mechanisms underlying the cases he reported but died before being able to form any concrete explanation.
How Many of Us Believe in Reincarnation?
Let’s see where the world stands with respect to this mystery.
25% of U.S. Christians believe in it, even though the Bible hasn’t directly approached the topic. If anything, the Christian faith views the body as inseparable from the soul (which challenges the notion of reincarnation).
Christian faith does speak, however, of the redemption of one’s body. There are several references to a “spirit body” that is no longer restricted to a worldly mode of existence. Most likely, though, this liberated spirit-body is reunited with God as a whole instead of reincarnating into yet another earthly body.
Where Does Judaism Stand?
Like Christianity, Judaism also talks about an afterlife. But reincarnations and karmic cycles aren’t part of the discussion. Instead, souls reside in heaven after death. The only way for them to come back down to earth is if the Messiah arrives.
I’m not an expert on theology, so forgive me if I’m getting some of the details wrong. But from my understanding, Judaism believes in souls, but not in the traditional, never-ending, reincarnating type of way.
Our Fear of Death
Whether reincarnation exists is yet to be proven.
But suppose there’s one thing about this whole enigma that has been pretty well established through scrutinous research. In that case, belief in reincarnation and religion, in general, helps alleviate people’s fear of death. One study examining pilgrims in India found that their belief in souls was linked to reduced anxiety surrounding death.
Researchers interviewed a sample of 105 adults attending the Ardh Kumbh Mela, a massive religious gathering. They gave them a Death Anxiety scale which included sentences like “I fear dying a painful death.”
Results showed that those who attended the gathering for more than 30 days were significantly less afraid of death than those stuck around for less than a week. Researchers concluded that greater religiosity = positive (or at least, less anxious) feelings regarding death.
Those who held onto stricter religious practices showed less stress surrounding their death and the death of others. This finding doesn’t come as much of a surprise. When you know you’re going to live on and on, why worry? When you believe that you’re not your physical body, why stress about its demise?
True for Westerners as Well
Indians and other Eastern cultures aren’t the only ones benefitting from such beliefs. One study concerning Western participants found similar results. The study was done on 26 Dutch adults, who were interviewed and later divided into seven degrees of faith – lacking, lost, liminal, loose, learned, lasting, and liquid religion.
Lacking = no belief. Lost = no longer believe. Liminal = in between. Loose = Tolerant about it. Learned = belief blending with scientific reasoning. Lasting = present and robust belief. Liquid = Strong and blended with new age beliefs.
The Degree of Belief Matters
The findings uncovered that the degree of religious belief determines the relationship between both variables (faith and death anxiety). Their observations suggest that a strong belief system fosters a feeling of predictability, which lessens anxiety.
Interestingly, those categorized as having liminal belief (somewhere in between) said things like “maybe it is nonsense, but it did me good,” meaning that they were fully aware that it might be their wishful thinking. Still, they felt that the thought of an afterlife helped them whenever death came up.
Back to the Pollock Twins
After reading about several cases like the Pollock twins, I’m not entirely convinced that reincarnation is a real, grounded, established phenomenon. I am, however, utterly fascinated by children’s ability to give such detailed accounts about people who existed.
What do you think? Did John and Florence unconsciously impose their wishful thinking on their newborn twins as a way of dealing with their grief? Did their faith create some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy? Let us know in the comments.